Golden Dawn: ‘cleaners’ that will get ‘the filth out of Greece’
By Nikos Chalos
According to recent European headlines, Greece currently suffers from two distinct crises: the economic crisis and the migrant crisis. What has surprisingly gone completely unnoticed, however, are the unprecedented political changes Greece has been going through over the past years with regards to extremist parties.
In order to understand these changes, it is important to know that up to the election of the political party SYRIZA (radical left) in 2015, political control of Greece was alternated between two parties: PASOK (left) and New Demokratia (liberal-conservative). Combined, these two parties accounted for nearly 80% of the votes in any election from 1974 to 2015. All other political parties, characterized by being slightly radical, were steadfastly ignored.
The political landscape was entirely reconstructed when the Greek debt crisis began. Suddenly, Greek policies became the target of scandals to which only two parties could be blamed for during the 2015 elections. PASOK took the hardest hit, as it was blamed for the unpopular bailout agreements. Their share of the vote massively dropped from 43.92% in 2009 to only 6.3% in 2015.
For the first time since the establishment of the Third Hellenic Republic in 1974, a third political party unexpectedly won the elections: a historical moment in and of its own. SYRIZA was formed in 2004 by a merger between 17 different (radical leftist) parties and organisations, plus numerous independent activists. While only obtaining 3.2% of the votes in 2004, the party soon gained ground and managed to attract the largest share of votes, namely 28.7% in the 2015 elections.
Alongside the unprecedented developments on the left, a far more troublesome development has taken place on the right. With Golden Dawn (established in 1980) Greece is now faced with a political party present in parliament that is described as and best-known for being a nationalist, far-right, political party. Certain third parties have even gone as far as to describe Golden Dawn as a neo-Nazi party.
The reason as to why Golden Dawn is said to reflect neo-Nazism becomes apparent when one looks at the party’s flags, salutes and general symbolism, which do not leave much to the imagination. Despite the fact that Greeks have never ceased to loath the Nazis, Golden Dawn has been able to round up some support. In the 2015 elections, they gained approximately 7% of the vote. Obviously, this is nowhere close to becoming a major party that could actually win any election, yet it has been speculated that this might not even be their goal.
With their well-designed populist approach, Golden Dawn reaches out to those who feel left behind by the current establishment. It just happens to be that the latter type of individuals are present by the dozen in the country. This general sentiment found in the general population can be explained by the fact that the economic crisis has led to the biggest loss of economic activity (over 50% of GDP) within a country in the entirety of modern history - resulting in over 20% of all Greeks living in poverty. People - unable to feed their family or pay for heating - felt utterly ignored by a Greek government that was simply unable to provide for its citizens. Aware of this situation, Golden Dawn jumped at the opportunity and offered an answer and alternative to these despaired individuals.
The party has organised numerous free handout events - such as food banks, where owning a Greek passport was the only qualification for a handout - and has even started to take over the role of the police. Some neighbourhoods (especially in Athens) have become criminal hotspots, zones that even the police doesn’t dare to enter. However, a quick call to your Golden Dawn contact, and a group of men equipped with baseball bats can be there in a jiffy. This has earned them sympathy from those who have been the hardest-hit by the crisis.
Several of their members have expressed the desire to become some sort of ‘Hezbollah of Greece’ - slowly becoming a state within a state and circumventing the democratic process altogether. Judging from their food banks and ‘police’ squads that they have managed to establish, they have certainly made some progress towards such a Greek Hezbollah. Yet regardless of these attempts at garnishing sympathy for being the helper of the poor, their terrifying nature is almost impossible to deny.
Since 2011 members of the party have been involved in hundreds of violent attacks. Most targeted were Middle-Eastern migrant workers who came to Athens during the last decades. Leftists (independent activists and even a politician) and gays have also been targeted. There are two confirmed murders committed by members of the party: the first was the murder of a Bangladeshi migrant in 2011 and the second of the Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas, which sparked major anti-fascist riots in both Athens and Thessaloniki (the 2nd largest city).
One of Golden Dawn’s main aims is to “get the filth out of Greece," often referring to themselves as the ““cleaners” who are charged with the responsibility of doing so. They have proposed that only those of Greek blood should be allowed to vote. Similarly, they suggested that only Greeks should be admissible for receiving blood transfusions from the blood bank.
A Golden Dawn MP 'attacks' another female-MP in a live TV show
Their party leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, was convicted after being charged for being in the possession of weapons and explosives in the early 80s, and currently faces trial for leading the formation of a criminal organisation. Finally, videos of squads of Golden Dawn members harassing/beating migrants on the streets and public transport (or smashing their market stands) are commonplace on the internet.
Despite all this, they have still maintained their share of the vote. Such a strong voter base, combined with the ‘Hezbollah’ desires and the extremely fragile situation Greece is in, are the perfect combination for trouble.
Few countries have shown so many parallels to Germany’s Great Depression years as does present day Greece. Even fewer still have seen a rise of an extremist right party taking place simultaneously. If the economic suffering in Greece continues to prevail for much longer - enabling this period of intensifying radicalisation and polarisation in Greek politics to continue – Golden Dawn might just see their dreams materialise. And if so, I guess we should be happy and grateful that Greece is a much smaller country than Germany…